The Great Gatsby
starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, and Toby Maguire
screenplay by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce
directed by Baz Luhrmann
I’ve read the modern classic The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald three times and I’ve never thought of it as a modern Romeo and Juliet story. But I think that’s how some people interpret it. Maybe they’re right. Or not. I read it the first time in high school English - Grade 11, 12, or 13, I forget. At the time I was very excited to read it because I had heard its reputation as one of the greatest modern English-language novels, set in Roaring Twenties New York. But after reading it I didn’t see it that way, nor after each re-reading. In particular I remember my high school English teacher making a really big deal about the optometrist sign featuring the Big Eyes of Dr. Eckleburg. They were supposed to represent the all-seeing eyes of God watching over mankind’s Jazz Age depravity. But after each of my re-readings I was surprised to see how little the famous billboard with its eyes was featured and felt sure that the teacher had made too much of it. I don’t think it deserves to be called a theme and used as a final exam essay question, which it was. Maybe it still is, too.
Basically what it’s about is a poor Midwestern World War I veteran who makes a fortune in Roaring 20s New York as a bootlegger. He lives in a big mansion out on Long Island and is drawn to the lifestyle of his super-wealthy neighbors. His waterfront property is directly opposite his old girlfriend’s house. He still loves Daisy Buchanan even though she is married now herself. Daisy’s husband, Tom, is cheating with his own mistress, Myrtle, the wife of the local auto garage mechanic. But Daisy is too timid to declare herself for her old flame, Gatsby. After Myrtle is killed in a traffic accident Tom Buchanan orchestrates things not only for Gatsby to take the fall, but for his posthumous reputationto be thoroughly destroyed. Unfairly, as it turned out, because even though he was a bootlegger, gin runner, and speakeasy operator Gatsby was a romantic.
The story is told from the perspective of Jay Gatsby’s poor neighbor, Nick Carraway (Toby Maguire). Nick happens to be Daisy’s cousin and is the only character in the story who becomes Gatsby’s friend. DiCaprio and Maguire are friends and contemporaries. Maguire is best known for his Spiderman work. DiCaprio has had greater, longer, more sustained artistic and commercial success, and it is known that he often holds out spots in his films for his friend, Toby.